Operated by a government agency the National Park Service, there are 59 protected areas known as National Parks in the United States. National Parks in the US can be established by an act of the United States Congress. The National Parks are proclaimed taking into consideration certain criteria such as natural beauty, recreational opportunities, unusual ecosystems and historical or archaeological significance. Yellowstone Park is the first such park established in 1872. Of the 59 National Parks, 14 are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As such it’s no easy task to enlist a national park as the best one and rank the rest next to that. However, here is an attempt to list them down as per their popularity. Here is the list of top 5 most popular National Parks of the United States.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Spread across the two states of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountains. Spanning over a wide range of elevations, these mountains are home to exceptional landscape, numerous waterfalls and over 5000 varieties of flora and fauna. With a mountain trail of 1,300 km including the Appalachian trail of 110 km, hiking is the main attraction. Other activities include camping, horseback riding, fishing and touring across nearly 80 historic structures. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, this park is the most popular national park with over 10 million visits in 2015.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Located in the state of Arizona, the Grand Canyon National Park is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado River, the great canyon runs along for 446 km long. It is 1.6 km deep and 24 km wide at some places! Millions of years of erosion have exposed the Colorado Plateau of its colorful layers in countless mesas and canyon walls. A photography paradise; the vast expanse, the beautiful color patterns, the red valleys and the cliffs are a wonder to witness. An UNESCO World Heritage Site and with 5.5 million visits in 2015, the Grand Canyon is the second most popular national park in the United States.
3. Yosemite National Park
John Muir once wrote, “No temple made with human hands can compete with Yosemite”. Located in the state of California, Yosemite features towering granite cliffs, old-growth forests and dramatic waterfalls. With a unique intersection of geology and hydrology, the park offers a perfect location for rock climbing. Home to Half Dome and El Captain (the two peaks), the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley and the Yosemite Falls (North America’s tallest waterfall), Yosemite is renowned for its giant sequoia groves, and Sierra Nevada’s pristine wilderness. The 11 km long and 1.6 km wide Yosemite Canyon is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to an abundance of rare plant and animal species. Nearly 4 million people visited the park during 2015.
4. Yellowstone National Park
Spread across the three states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, the Yellowstone is situated on the Yellowstone Caldera. The park has an extensive network of geothermal areas with boiling mud pots, vividly colored hot springs, and regularly erupting geysers; the best known among them are Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring. The Yellowstone River, the yellow-hued Grand Canyon within the park; numerous scenic waterfalls and four mountain ranges running through the park are a major attraction. Yellowstone is renowned for its craggy peaks, alpine lakes, explosive geysers, deep forests and a wealth of wild animals. Home to over 60 mammal species like grizzly bears, gray wolves, moose, bison, lynxes and elk, Yellowstone is one of the best wildlife viewing spots in the United States. Yellowstone is an UNESCO World Heritage Site with nearly 4 million visits in 2015.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
Located in the state of Colorado, the park is divided by the Continental Divide and has two very different environments on either side. The elevations of the mountains range from 8000 to 14250 feet. With immense natural beauty, this part of the Rockies has fabulous ecosystems varying from over 150 riparian lakes to mountains and subalpine forests to alpine tundra region devoid of trees. Longs Peak, Bear Lake, and Trail Ridge Road are popular destinations in the park. The igneous mountains and glacier valleys of the park are home to black bears, cougars, mule deer and bighorn sheep. With lots of breathtaking scenic beauties and numerous opportunities for adventures, Rockies are one of the most popular national parks of the United States.
The National Parks offer visitors an enchanting experience of America’s wilderness. As per the data collected from sites hosting these parks, a staggering 307.2 million people visited the 59 national parks in 2015, which is an all-time record so far!